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Toronto Family of Toronto streetcar shooting victim thanks public for support

A make-shift memorial marks the location where Sammy Yatim was shot by police in Toronto, Ontario Tuesday, July 30, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The family of Sammy Yatim, the teenager killed by police officers when he was alone on a streetcar with a knife, has issued a written statement thanking the public for their support and understanding.

"As you can imagine our lives have been turned upside down since the unimaginable events that occurred in the early morning hours this past Saturday and the death of our beloved Sammy," read the letter. "There are no good words or sentiments that we can express that will embody how we feel right now. We are heart-broken, confused and still in a state of shock."

Mr. Yatim, 18, was killed in an encounter with police on Saturday just after midnight. Witnesses say that Mr. Yatim, a knife collector, brandished a two-inch knife on a Dundas streetcar at Bellwoods Avenue and exposed himself. The driver stopped the streetcar and everybody, including the driver, rushed out of the vehicle leaving Mr. Yatim behind. Police arrived at the scene, and in a witness video of the incident, nine shots are heard being fired by police from outside the streetcar. As Mr. Yatim's limp body lay on the floor of the streetcar, police can be seen and heard going in to taser him.

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The incident sparked a massive outcry from the public against unnecessary use of force on a teenager who they perceived as not posing an immediate threat to the police officers.

Mr. Yatim's parents and younger sister, who had to identify his body, have not spoken to journalists about what he was doing on the streetcar that evening. His friends have said that his behaviour, as reported by witnesses, is out of character for him. Although Mr. Yatim's mother and younger sister made a public appearance at a vigil and rally seeking "Justice for Sammy" Monday night, they did not make any speeches at the rally.

In the letter, the family goes on to say that they have received a tremendous outpouring of support from people across the country.

"Thank you to all who have reached out to us and helped us shoulder this pain. We are living a nightmare we can't seem to wake up from," they said.

The letter was drafted on behalf of Mr. Yatim's father Nabil Yatim, mother Sahar Bahadi and sister Sarah Yatim. The family extended thanks to Toronto police chief Bill Blair for launching an investigation into the shooting, and insisted that they do not hold any "ill will" against police officers.

"We expect that this matter will be investigated with the fullest measure of the law, so that incidents like this can be better managed and deescalated before such extreme use of force is ever exercised again," the letter said.

The family has requested privacy and time to adjust to life without Mr. Yatim.

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"Sammy was our child, our brother and our friend – a young man with a full and purposeful life ahead of him. We need this time together as a family to share our memories of his laughter, his love and his unyielding optimism, and hopefully find some comfort in those memories," the family said.

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